As a look back at 2023, I would like to give a brief summary of my vacation in Croatia this year, where I took part in the Istria300 race there and was able to promote the Istria300 Ladies with its premiere. This year I also had the unpleasant experience of losing my sense of taste for a long time due to a COVID illness, which also had other side effects. My highlight was breaking my best time at the Ötztaler Cycle Marathon
Race and vacation in Croatia, Istria peninsula, Istria300
The Istria300 took place for the first time in 2021. In 2023, the Istria300 Ladies had its premiere. There were special features for female participants in the Istria300, such as a women’s cycling kit that stood out not only in terms of size and cut, but also in terms of appearance. The motto of the event was: RIDE YOUR LIMITS. There are three routes of different lengths to choose from: Istria155, Istria235 or Istria300, whereby the exact kilometers vary slightly each year due to the possible course of the route with road closures. The participants of all routes start together in the port city of Porec. Porec is also the common finish. In between, you can still decide on the route during the race. The 2500 starting places for the Istria300 were already sold out in the spring. On top of that, there were 300 starting places for the Istria300 Ladies – also sold out. As I had been ill for a long time 4 weeks before the race, had been struggling with a high heart rate since then and had cut back on my training, the Istria300 route was out of the question for me. In the end, I decided to ride the shortest variant, Istria155, with 168 kilometers and 2400 vertical meters. The race profile on Istrian is extremely undulating, which is always a torture for me with my lack of sprinting muscles. The entire race is a kind of big group ride, in which slipstreaming is a – if not THE – decisive criterion for the race time. While other cyclists accelerate powerfully with their fast-twitch sprinting muscles for the first few seconds at the start of a rising wave, I can’t keep up with my endurance muscles. As a result, I was often in danger of losing the group and it was not uncommon for me to have to close the resulting gaps with a huge loss of strength. Longer climbs of 370 and 260 meters in altitude were only late in the second half of the race. In addition to a lack of sprinting muscles, a lack of aggression due to a lack of practice in races and group rides is one of my weaknesses. In mixed groups, you are at a disadvantage with fewer absolute watts compared to men, especially on flat terrain. Women are not normally at the front of groups. As I want to avoid collisions as much as possible, I often keep too much distance, which means I don’t always ride in the full slipstream.
From the port city of Porec, the route climbs steadily into the hinterland and then tends to descend again towards the finish. In calm weather conditions, a classic land-sea wind circulation develops during the day, which means a strong headwind for the last few kilometers of the race. During the race, one participant told me about his painful experience at the Istria300 in 2022, where he was alone against the wind without a group for the last few kilometers on the way to the coast. A terrible idea for me at that moment in his story. I still didn’t know what to expect. The aid stations were well equipped. However, I had decided to mainly feed myself. I hadn’t brought any gels with me to Croatia, so I only had bars. To my satisfaction, I had no problems digesting solid food – unlike at Ötztaler 2023 – which was due to the less hot temperatures at Istria300. The liquid gels offered at the refreshment points were out of the question for me, as they have always had a negative effect on my blood sugar stability and performance. At the start of the last 40 kilometers, I found myself in a group with six other women. As I didn’t know the route of the last kilometers to the finish and didn’t know whether there would be a chance to leave the other women behind me, I decided to attack on the last long climb. In an all-women’s race, I might have tried to break away on the last flat kilometers. However, as men can usually close any gap in such a case, it was too uncertain for me. And the last thing I wanted was to cross the finish line with the group and be annoyed afterwards that I still had energy and strength left. On the penultimate climb, I could already see that I had suffered significantly less than the riders around me. Planned, done. At the start of the last climb of just under 300 meters in altitude, I increased my power to sweet spot level. At first, all the riders tried to keep up the pace. But then my gap increased and by the end of the climb there were only two women left. One of them was a very narrow, easy climber and the other an elite rider. I reached the last aid station with them, from where it was “only” a good 20 kilometers downhill to the coast. That’s when I made the crucial mistake. Due to the confusion at the last aid station, there was a gap of a few meters between me and the two ladies, who were joined by a few men at the aid station. Helpers ran from the refreshment station onto the course to hand out drinks and gels to the riders. My slalom around the helpers and some standing riders increased the gap between me and the group. I didn’t immediately switch to full throttle to close the gap. I realized too late that I couldn’t keep up with the group’s increasing speed downhill and, above all, I couldn’t beat them. The group became more and more distant and I rode alone in the rising headwind from the sea. At the end of the descent, I realized that my route on the navigation device didn’t match the route signs. I stopped and waited for a rider following me. Over the last few kilometers, other riders caught up with us, including two women. In the end, I finished 10th overall in the women’s classification (out of 255 female finishers in the Istia155). As the weather promised a few more warm days in Croatia, we quickly extended our vacation in Porec after the race. October marks the start of the off-season in Istria and some hotels and restaurants close. There is hardly any car traffic in the hinterland of Porec, allowing for relaxed cycling in beautiful natural surroundings. I’ll be back!
Continuous blood glucose monitoring, COVID after-effects
I fell ill with Covid in the spring. The course was “mild”, but I felt extremely miserable. Fever and night-time chills were the order of the day during my COVID illnesses. I would like to say straight away that I have a very good immune system and rarely fall ill, and when I do, it is less severe than those around me with the same illness. I have been taking a very high dose of vitamin D (>5000 I.U. or 125 ug) paired with vitamin K2 every day for years. My vitamin levels and other blood measurements are extremely exemplary. The regular COVID disease symptoms also disappeared after a few days. However, I had lost my sense of smell, which lasted another 6 weeks. At the same time, I suffered from blood sugar imbalances. A week and a half before I fell ill, I had started to measure my blood sugar with a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), a continuous glucose sensor on my upper arm, which is now available to buy for athletes. Before the illness, I had a stable, low blood sugar level without sharp peaks after carbohydrate-rich meals. With the onset of the disease, it changed abruptly. Higher blood sugar levels are not unusual with illness. The body releases more stress hormones, which increase blood sugar. High blood sugar spikes can also occur. In my case, this condition, together with the loss of smell, persisted for a month and a half. A check of my long-term blood sugar showed that it was very good before the illness and the problems definitely started again at the time. My observations were confirmed by doctors and studies. An increase in blood sugar is also possible in non-diabetics after a COVID disease and is INDEPENDENT of the severity of the disease. So it can affect anyone!
With this in mind: stay healthy, have a good New Year and maybe we’ll see you at one or two cycling events. Happy New Year!
Study on COVID:
Alberca RW, Ramos YÁL, Pereira NZ, Beserra DR, Branco ACCC, Leão Orfali R, Aoki V, Duarte AJDS, Sato MN. Long-term effects of COVID-19 in diabetic and non-diabetic patients. Front Public Health. 2022 Aug 15;10:963834. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.963834. PMID: 36045733; PMCID: PMC9421360.